Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Fourth Commandment

I love religious-themed jokes.  One of my favorites is about the Ten Commandments:  Moses comes down from the mountain and tells the Israelites, “I have good news and I have bad news.  The good news is I got him down to 10.  The bad news is adultery is still one of them.”  If you’ve been to Sunday School as a child, you likely learned the Ten Commandments.  There are many clever ways to remember them and like naming the seven dwarfs or the eight reindeer, we race to recite them (sometimes). 

The first three tell us about our relationship with God and the last six about our relationship with each other.  Author Walter Brueggemann calls the fourth commandment the “bridge commandment.”  This is the one that commands us to rest, to keep the Sabbath holy.  I know for me, it is the most ignored commandment.  Go kill someone and there are all sorts of consequences.  Don’t rest one day a week?  No societal consequences.  In fact, we are rewarded for being available at all hours for our jobs - for making things happen, getting things done, and driving results.  God delivered us from slavery but He knew that we could enslave ourselves again if we weren’t intentional about rest. 

For most of my childhood, my father traveled Monday thru Friday.  I didn’t realize until after several years that not everyone went to the airport to pick up their dads on Friday evening.  My father sent me postcards from his travels and my mom didn’t complain that he wasn’t around.  I didn’t feel like I missed out because when he was home on the weekend, there were no pagers, cell phones, or email.  When he was home, he wasn’t working.  We had plenty of quality time. 

I have been pondering Sabbath for several years and struggling to integrate it into my life.  After I left my 75 hour/week corporate job a year ago, I starting resting each week pretty regularly.  But, as things have gotten busier (and more exciting), I have fallen into old habits.  This past Sunday, Rev. Beth Fain taught an excellent class on Sabbath keeping.  Part of this teaching was that Sabbath doesn’t always involve worship and if God could take a day off and trust that things would be okay, we can take a day off.   This was new for me – that Sabbath could be about trusting God. 

So this Monday, I took a Sabbath.  I put on my out-of-office message and planned to be unproductive.  Within a few hours, I felt anxious and stressed.  I was having a hard time trusting that I could take a break from work.  While I physically did very little, my mind was struggling to shut off.  But, I named this day holy (set apart) and stuck with it.  Here’s the awesome thing about God.  Even though I felt some discomfort during my day of rest, it still changed me.  As this week is shaping up, I have experienced renewed patience with others, connection to God, and a lack of worry about the work still to be done this week. 

What would God show you if you took a day off and produced nothing?  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Through the Eyes of Another

This Advent, I felt called to try and “be in the moment,” to be fully present in whatever I was doing and with each person God put in my path.  I made a No Multi-Tasking pledge.  I was so in the moment enjoying a family lunch that I completely forgot my son's sewing lesson. Still, I felt I wasn't making much progress as I never fully gave up talking on the phone (hands-free) while driving, among other things.  I am a rookie at this in-the-moment stuff…

I thought something might happen, that I might be changed in some way by trying to be fully present.  Even as I tried to just be, I still had expectations.  As I look back now, I see that God gave me some extraordinary opportunities to be with others in some very special moments.  And as these moments unfolded, I wasn’t tempted in the least to do anything else.

As Christmas approached, I wasn’t feeling well and so days slipped by until it was December 22nd and I had a list as long as my arm of errands to do the next day.  My younger son had been asking me for days to arrange a visit with one of his friends and he even added it to my list.  I finally stopped what I was doing and made arrangements for his friend to come over the next morning.  This is pretty big for me since my perfectionist self of old would have never been able to handle this disruption to progress.  I know; it’s hard for me to admit.  The next morning, when I talked to my friend, she sounded upset.  When she got to my house, I invited her in for a cup of tea.  She poured her heart out about a tough day at home and we laughed and cried.  And even though there were chores to do, I was completely at peace spending that time being still with my friend.  The best part of that day to be sure.

At Christmas Eve worship, I sat between two very different friends – a young man who was without his family this holiday and a woman who had lost her husband recently.   I found myself wondering what it was like for her as she tried to get through her first Christmas without the love of her life and held her as she cried.  The young man to my left is like a son to me and was experiencing his first Episcopal Christmas service.  He had no idea what was happening as we passed the peace and since he is in long-term recovery from substance abuse, he did not drink the wine at communion. I wondered if that was difficult for others pursuing sobriety.  He found the “dresses,” what we call vestments, distracting.  I wondered what sort of traditions my friend had celebrated with her husband that she wouldn’t be doing this year.  I worshiped through their eyes that night and was completely in those moments with each of them. 

On Christmas Day, I was able to take a wonderful nap.  When I woke up from my nap, I read my emails and I had an email that a friend’s mother had been put into hospice and may die shortly.  I reached out to clergy and went to the nursing home to be with them.  I remembered sitting with my dad as he took his last, labored breaths and saying goodbye to a friend an hour before she died.  I stayed for the prayers offered by Rev. Katie and as we held hands, I physically felt the Holy Spirit’s presence.  Her mother died about four hours later.  I wondered how difficult it would be to lose your mother on Christmas. 

On the third day of Christmas, I found myself worshiping through someone else as well.  We had a sort of sing-a-long during the service where folks could call out Christmas hymns they wanted to sing and Silent Night was called out twice.  I held back tears as I saw a family who lost a child this past year; her favorite Christmas song was Silent Night.  We even sang it at her funeral.  I wondered how very hard this year’s Christmas had to be without their sweet daughter.  This was followed by a conversation with another friend who is facing some serious medical struggles with a loved one.  I was humbled to be able to listen and support her at this time.  I wondered who else was in pain during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

So, this Christmas wasn’t perfect in the ways I would have measured perfection in the past.  But it was perfect in all the Godly ways.  Advent is about slowing down and preparing.  I think God did prepare me for these Christmas moments.  What is God preparing you to do with His love?